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BFFs? Only 15% of Employees Consider Coworkers to be "Real Friends"

Do you see your coworkers as real friends? If not, then you're right in line with a new study that finds only 15% of U.S. employees consider their coworkers to be the kind of friends they could call at 3 a.m. with a non-work related issue!

Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois recently surveyed 3,000 full-time employed Americans to get a better understanding of how workplace friendships work. How close are we to our coworkers, and do we have unbreakable social bonds with them? Can we really be BFFs (er, Business Friends Forever) with our fellow working professionals?

First, the good news: More than eight in 10 surveyed (82%) said they do work with someone they would consider to be a friend. Aw. That's great, and completely understandable. We all need somebody we can connect with at work, since we spend so much time there. Work friends make the day go better.

Our Workplace Friends In Pie Chart Form
However, the survey reveals that if we were to put our coworkers into pie chart form, then we're actually juggling five different kinds of workplace relationships. It turns out that we view roughly 41% of our coworkers as just that -- coworkers -- and nothing more. Just give me the spreadsheet when you're done with it. G'bye.

We consider another 22% of our coworkers to be "strangers". For whatever reason, we just don't know them very well, if at all. We consider one in five coworkers (20%) to be "at-work-only" friends. You know, the coworkers we'll eat lunch with but we're never going to their house on Saturday night to play Cards Against Humanity because we see enough of them during the work week. The relationship is just not at that level, but it's still better than the 2% of coworkers who we've labeled as "enemies". Oof.

But the enemy of our enemy is our friend, and that's the remaining 15% on the pie chart we consider our "real" friends at work! In fact, most of us average five friends at work, according to the study. Employees who work in transportation report having the most number of friends. A whopping 10 friends each on average. But transportation employees are never in the same place long enough to see these friends' bad habits in action, so it kind of makes sense somehow why these friendships chug along.

I'm Over 40, Will You Be My Work Friend?
Employees over age 40 want more friends at work. I see two reasons for this. First, Millennials comprise the majority of the workplace population now, leaving employees over a certain age on the outs in terms of connecting with younger colleagues who may not have a mortgage, two kids and a spouse texting them to stop and pick up the pizza on the way home.

Second, older employees by nature have more life experience, and as a result might be more jaded about really getting to know people at work based on past experience. They've gotten burned in a big way by a past workplace friendship with That Coworker Who Will Not Be Named, but they still yearn for workplace friendships. Maybe they can gain some new friends from senior managers who report having too many friends at work? That's right: senior managers report having more friends at work than they can, well, manage.

Meanwhile, employees who work in media, real estate, legal, manufacturing/distribution, and government report having the fewest number of work friends. This friend desert is probably due in part to the competitive nature of their work. Hey, I'm a journalist by training, and I work alone.


But perhaps the best indicator of the strength of our workplace friendships is what happens when a work friend leaves the company. Do we stay in touch? Only 18% of employees surveyed stay in close touch with their work friends who leave the company. So the vast majority of our work friendships fizzle out as soon as somebody leaves. At least we could always "friend" them on social media, I guess?


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